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Goodman Shaffer: Hikes inspire celebration of state parks

Commentary

Another new year (and an exciting new decade) is under way. For many of us, 2020 began with a hike at a Pennsylvania State Park.

The First Day Hike initiative has become a tradition in our region and around the nation, one that’s growing every year.

By the numbers: since 2012, all 50 states have cooperatively sponsored First Day Hikes. This year, 39 Pennsylvania parks hosted events, topping the 2019 total of more than 7,755 miles hiked by nearly 3,000 human participants (plus more than 130 dogs).

Local events have been supported by “Friends” chapters of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forest Foundation for Canoe Creek, Prince Gallitzin and Shawnee State Parks, among others, organized by the National Association of State Park Directors.

When the temperature falls and the snow flies, we tend to forget about these local and state treasures, but state parks are open year-round for our enjoyment, recreation and peace of mind. There’s no better example of that than park leadership welcoming the public to celebrate the new year with a walk through the woods.

At Shawnee State Park, a crackling campfire greeted the largest group to date to attend the First Day offering. Hikers of all ages were bundled up but in good spirits for the two-mile hike guided by new park manager, Jared Fencil, who had already led a smaller event earlier that morning at Blue Knob. They were rewarded with hot dogs and sauerkraut, s’mores and hot chocolate.

At Canoe Creek State Park, multiple hikes were offered, and included marked maps for those who wanted to go on their own schedule and at their own pace. An estimated 150-plus hikers participated during the Hollidaysburg events, including Jeff Claycomb and Cindy Kelly, who started their year doing a 9am hike at Prince Gallitzin with a couple dozen fellow outdoor lovers before hiking in Hollidaysburg.

“First Day Hikes are excellent events, very well put together,” said Claycomb, a Bedford resident. “As a bit of a challenge, we wanted to try to hit multiple events, and it helps that some parks publish self-guided maps which can be done any time of the day.”

Next year, they want to start 2021 by visiting three state parks for three different hikes.

“It’s a great way to do a hike that’s not too taxing on the body,” said Cindy Kelly of Altoona. “It always gets me motivated to get outside and walk more. The guided hikes are great because they always tell me something I didn’t know; there’s so much that goes on in these parks that most people aren’t aware of.”

Some believe that the way you spend New Year’s Day sets the tone for the year. For First Day Hikers, a year (and decade) of outdoor adventure awaits.

Kellie Goodman Shaffer can be reached at kellie@bedfordcountychamber.org. Her column appears on Tuesdays.

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